Spider-Man is the first in the original trilogy directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire, and it tells the story of how Peter Parker becomes the web-slinger.
In this golden age of comic book movies, it’s easy to forget how it all started. If it weren’t for Superman (1978), Batman (1989), X-Men (2000), and Spider-Man, we wouldn’t have our cinematic universes of superheroes. That’s not to say the aforementioned films should be held on a higher pedestal than everything else, but they helped lay the groundwork for today’s superhero movies. These days, we groan when we have to see an origin story retold through reboots, but back in the early 2000s when average moviegoers were unfamiliar with the world’s most popular comic book characters, a superhero’s first major flick was something to see. Today, 15 years later, Spider-Man still holds up.
This is one of the best superhero origin films ever made. How Peter Parker became Spider-Man stays true to the essence of how the story was first told in 1962, and the result shines on-screen brilliantly. Peter’s set up as a nerd who gets picked on by the tough guy and can’t get the girl is done within only a few minutes, and with few words. It’s much better to show the audience that this is Peter’s character than for him to talk about it with Harry and nothing more. Peter’s arrogance of trying to use his powers for financial gain, which ends up resulting in Uncle Ben’s death, is an excellent way for him to learn that with great power comes great responsibility. Few superheroes have had their defining moment in which they learn the lesson that ultimately makes them who they are depicted better in a film.
Raimi and his casting directors did a perfect job with filling all of the major roles. Tobey Maguire portrays the nerdy and heroic sides of Peter and Spider-Man as if the character from the comic had come to life. James Franco’s Harry is both a good friend to Peter, but can also be an ass like Harry is. Kirsten Dunst gets the look, attitude and personality of Mary Jane down fantastically; she has always been a complicated character, the kind of pretty girl who acts happy around everyone at school, but lives a troubled life at home. Willem Dafoe is both charismatic and creepy as Norman and the Green Goblin. Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson are warm, caring, and helpful to Peter as Aunt May and Uncle Ben, respectively. Finally J.K. Simmons’s J. Jonah Jameson is one of the best on-screen portrayals of any comic book character ever; he nails the fast-talking, demanding, newspaper editor, and at two hours of runtime, this movie could have benefitted from more than only six minutes of Jolly ol’ Jonah.
The Spider-Man suit in this film is the best we have seen in all three different cinematic interpretations of the wall-crawler. It is the closest the costume designers have ever gotten to the look and feel of the character. The suit resembles the classic red and blue duds from the original comics flawlessly, much better than the one used in The Amazing Spider-Man and far simpler than the decked-out, A.I. outfit that Tom Holland wears in Homecoming.
The love story between Peter and Mary Jane is both corny, yet touching. Their dialogue to each other can be cheesy, but it shows how much he loves her. It’s a true, innocent love that doesn’t always sound perfect, and this was a good direction Raimi and screenwriter David Koepp took for the characters. Peter’s little speech to MJ about how she makes a man feel, when she asks him if Spider-Man said anything about her, establishes her as a unique woman. That’s what she is supposed to be to Peter. As long as the characters are portrayed as they are meant to be towards each other, a few tacky lines can be overlooked.
However, the relationship between Spider-Man and Mary Jane does not do much for the latter as a character. Some people, including myself, criticize Lois Lane in Batman v. Superman for needing to be saved by Superman too many times. In Spider-Man, he saves MJ three times. Her role as a love interest is very much the same as Lois’s in that movie—to give the hero someone to fight for and save, and not much else. Mary Jane does not contribute anything to Spider-Man’s battles, and the same is for all three of these films. To give the love interest nothing to do during the fight sequences but scream for one film is almost excusable, but to do it for an entire trilogy, tiring.
The biggest flaw of Spider-Man are its visual effects; a few of these have not aged well over the years. For example, when Peter first discovers his powers and runs across the rooftops, the CGI doll of Maguire in the overhead shots takes you out of a moment that is supposed to feel amazing. Even when Green Goblin jumps on his glider in his first fight with Spidey, you can tell his figure came out of a computer.
In the end, Spider-Man stands the test of time and is stil one of the greatest superhero films ever made.
Spider-Man gets an A+
“I never thought that Spider-Man would become the worldwide icon that he is. I just hoped the books would sell and I’d keep my job.”-Stan Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man
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